Students Vote in Favor of Divestment from Fossil Fuels
Issue   |   Wed, 04/06/2016 - 01:14

Students voted in a college-wide poll on whether or not to divest the college’s endowment holdings from the fossil fuel industry on Sunday, April 3. Out of the 627 respondents, which comprise more than a third of the student body, 73 percent voted in favor of divestment.

The poll was conducted by the Association of Amherst Students on behalf of Divest Amherst, a student-run advocacy group that calls for the college’s board of trustees to divest the college’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. The survey comes after Divest Amherst organized several days of tabling, a photo campaign and other methods of reaching the student body.
According to Kelly Missett ’19, a member of Divest Amherst who was heavily involved in tabling and outreach efforts, the results of the poll are intended to bolster Divest Amherst’s position in appealing to the board of trustees.

“We haven’t surveyed the student body about divestment since 2013,” Missett said in an email interview. “Although that poll generated extremely supportive results, with 88 percent of voters supporting divestment, many of those students have since graduated. We wanted to see what the current student body thinks.”

“The board is so invested in fossil fuels … it has no real reason to change, [if] there’s 15 students asking for change,” Raymond Surya ’19, another student involved in Divest Amherst, said. “[This poll] is showing that the whole student body supports [change].”

Missett also said that in recent years, Divest Amherst has increased its scope from targeting coal to seeking divestment from the entire fossil fuel industry.

Divest Amherst will also use the results of the poll in petitioning the town of Amherst to support their position, Surya said. In May, when the elected Town Meeting members will vote on petitions submitted to the town government, Divest Amherst intends to give a presentation about its campaign in an effort to have the members vote to show support for Divest Amherst. The Amherst Town Meeting is currently the legislative body of the Town of Amherst.

“That’s something that, to our knowledge, no divestment campaign has done,” Surya said.

The poll regarding divesting from coal was administered in April 2013. In February 2015, the board of trustees released its “Statement on Sustainability and Investment Policy,” which states that the college has no direct investment in coal but does not intend to divest from fossil fuels. The statement expressed support for efforts toward a carbon-neutral footprint.

The student body poll is the latest in a series of actions that Divest Amherst has taken to further its cause. In October of last year, Divest Amherst held a rally to urge the board of trustees to divest from fossil fuels following a talk by environmentalist and author Naomi Klein. Later that month, the group held an event, “Homecoming Teach-In,” which aimed to provide more information and education on divestment to the student body.

According to Surya, the divestment movement was a part of the Green Amherst Project, a student-run environmentalist group, until Divest Amherst split off at the end of last year.

“Putting recycling bins in dorms, putting signs next to elevators, that’s great, but we think that in order to make a real impact, we also have to make a political statement,” Surya said. “I think the difference between Divest Amherst and other green organizations like GAP [Green Amherst Project] is that we’re agitational — we’re not necessarily working through the system, but working around the system, to change the system that Amherst has in investing money.”

According to Ben Walker ’16, one of the Divest Amherst leaders, the movement is currently focused on getting the board of trustees to commit to environmentalism through its actions, to “put its money where its mouth is.”

Missett said that members of Divest Amherst hope that the poll results will urge the board of trustees to review its stance on divestment from fossil fuels.

“Although this poll itself will not enable the College to divest, we hope that it will convince the board of trustees that divestment [is] supported enough on campus that they should reconsider their position,” Missett said.